Adventure

St Francis Bay: The South African Village That Will Steal Every Surfer’s Heart

Amid the rabble and rumour that stirs the waters of the global surfing scene, St Francis Bay feels something like the eye of the storm. Sitting pretty on the Eastern Cape of South Africa, this quiet fishing village has kept hold of its vintage charm despite being home to what many boldly claim to be the Holy Grail of Surfing.

Right in the thick of the sport’s illustrious Golden Era, the town was pushed sharply into the spotlight with the release of the 1966 cult classic The Endless Summer. The documentary followed filmmaker Brian Bruce on his quest for the perfect wave, which he ultimately found in the pristine blue waters of St Francis Bay. The hollow tubes and long, luxurious right-handers fast became a global talking point, but half a century later the fame still hasn’t caught up with the beautiful seaside town.

Set along the manicured shores of a meandering system of canals, St Francis Bay is a dreamlike depiction of a beachside suburban paradise that will steal your heart and pull you out of your surf-wearied reverie. Hundreds upon hundreds of uniformly whitewashed, thatched roof houses spill out onto evergreen gardens and private boat ramps. Everywhere you look children jump into clear waters while laidback locals soak up the sunshine with surfboards, golf clubs or icy beverages in hand.

If your surfing bucket list is in need of a sophisticated shakeup without the crowds, St Francis Bay should be promptly squeezed in somewhere near the top.

What To Do In St Francis Bay

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Surf. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Let’s not overcomplicate things.

The world-class point breaks, sizeable swells and consistent offshore breezes are enough to keep any surfer entertained. Seal Point is the most consistent surf break in the area, but there are plenty more options including the more forgiving beach breaks of Anne’s Avenue and, of course, the famous break now known as Bruce’s Beauties. St Francis Bay is also half an hour’s drive from legendary Supertubes, Jeffreys Bay. Even if you’re not experienced enough to surf this perplexing piece of perfection, a day trip just to witness its majestic magnificence is essential.

Keep in mind that sharks are known to frequent the area, so keep your wits about you, avoid surfing around dusk and never, ever surf alone.

If surfing isn’t your thing, that’s all the more reason to ease into extreme vacation mode and simply enjoy the beaches and canals. Hire a stand-up paddleboard for the day and get to know the town, or get your hands on a golf buggy and enjoy some of the best golf courses in South Africa.

Animal lovers will fall in love with the Seal Point Nature Reserve, where dolphins, whales, seals and penguins are frequent visitors. While you’re there, be sure to visit the SANCCOB Penguin Rehabilitation Centre for some up-close cosying with the Bay’s cutest residents.

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When it comes to mealtime, seafood is at the top of the food chain. Take a lunchtime stroll around the wharves of Port St Francis to see the fishing charters in action, then perch up portside to enjoy the fruits of their labours at Chokka Block Restaurant. Their tastings and demonstrations of the local specialty chokka (calamari) will satisfy any seafood enthusiast.

Further inland, Quaysyde Barbeque Restaurant sits stylishly in the sunshine of its own private quay. Order the seafood pizza paired with a chilled glass of chardonnay and enjoy watching canal life unfold.

For some evening atmosphere, St Francis Brewing Co is an absolute must for beers and burgers with casual, surfy vibes. Their handcrafted beers are all inspired by the owner’s global surfing travels, and the unique selection of craft gins are just begging for a splash of tonic and a botanical twist.

Where To Stay In St Francis Bay


You can be as extravagant or as unceremonious as you like in this town, and either way you’re not likely to break the bank.

If you’re strictly there to immerse yourself in the rich surfing culture, try the St Francis Bay Backpackers for clean and casual accommodation options ranging from AU$20 to $60 per night for dorms or private rooms. The Barn House offers amazing value accommodation for up to four people, with prices starting at just AU$55 per night for rooms with their own private canal beach and boat harbour.

For something a bit special, a private house on the waterfront is surprisingly affordable. AU$650 a night will get you 10 bedrooms and a private infinity pool at Bonavanti Paradise House overlooking the waves. Activity junkies will love the seven-bedroom beauty on Canal Road for around AU$450 per night. The house is large and luxurious and comes with its own tennis court, pool, cricket net and gym.

When To Visit

In peak summertime, St Francis Bay transforms into a buzzing resort town filled with sunburnt beach bums. The winter vibes are far more tranquil, but with the best waves materialising in July this is definitely the time to visit. It’s also when the world’s best surfers will make their annual pilgrimage to the JBay Open at nearby Supertubes from July 2 to 13.

From March to September the frequent south-south-west swells provide endless opportunities for dreamlike surf sessions, but try to avoid the November-March period as strong easterly winds cause most surf spots to turn off for the summer.

How To Get There

  • Fly into Johannesburg Airport
  • Catch a connecting OneWorld flight to Port Elizabeth
  • Catch a J Bay shuttle service to St Francis Bay

 

(Lead image: Cape St Francis Resort / Facebook)